Pittsburg Landing And The Investment Of Corinth, by Orville James Victor
This book is a particularly interesting one because it combines two elements together that are frequently viewed, if at all, in isolation. Indeed, one of the strengths of this book is the way that it combines together several related and obscure campaigns to make Shiloh far more compelling on its own. For example, the author discusses the movement of Pope’s forces inland from the Mississippi into Tennessee, the efforts by General Mitchell to cut off communication between Chattanooga and Corinth, as well as the efforts by Halleck’s combined forces of Grant and Buell to besiege Corinth. The book also, in its discussion of the fact that Thomas was given operational control of Grant’s army during this period, provides a motivation for Grant’s inability to trust Thomas throughout the rest of the war and his accusation that Thomas, a careful general to be sure, had the slows. To be sure, the author does not draw out these conclusions, but plenty of evidence is discussed to ponder whether the Union should have moved towards Eastern Tennessee in the aftermath of Shiloh and to what extent the politics of war had an influence on the reputations of people long afterward.
This book is a relatively short one at between 100 and 150 pages, and it manages to cover, in some detail, the fighting at Shiloh as well as various maneuvers that were related to that battle and that took place in its aftermath. So, for example, we hear about the first and second days’ battles at Shiloh, and the author argues that the Confederate casualties were more than Union casualties in order to diminish at least some of the horror of the counts as well as the supposed blundering of Grant. Similarly, the author makes the march to Corinth appear to be a successful one and does not in any way accuse Halleck of being too slow, which is a common critique made by contemporary historians. Similarly, the author comments on some of the other movements that were being made around the same time (though, sadly, not Curtis’ successful move to Helena) as well as providing some detailed casualty counts of the Union in Shiloh. Those readers who want a good understanding of the promise that was possible as far as Union advances in Tennessee in early 1862 and how this was done would do well to check this book out and at least ponder its contents.
As far as books are concerned relating to the battle of Shiloh and its context, this book may be considered to be a subtle effort to bolster Halleck’s own perspective. The book is by no means a slander of Grant, but there are subtle points that seek to make Halleck’s point about the desirability of unity of command on the part of Union troops in the Western front. This is done, for example, through a discussion of the campaigns involved and the disagreement of goals, and even the unwillingness that Buell had in allowing his troops to come under Grant’s authority even though Grant was the acting commander on the scene of the battle itself. These elements help the reader to understand some of the political infighting that made things difficult when it comes to encouraging a unified front among commanders. We must remember, although it is not always easy to do so, that generals were human beings too, and sometimes their performance in the field was harmed by the fact that they were not only fighting a war against the opponent, but frequently also were engaged in infighting against rivals for prestige and power and worthwhile positions. If a general as frequently successful as Grant struggled to maintain his position in the face of this political infighting, it is easy to see how other generals would face even more serious difficulties.